Paper hearts

I recently finished my first paper piecing project using this heart pattern from Carol Doak. With paper piecing, the block is printed on paper and you sew on the lines paper side up, fabric down. It can feel disorienting at first! But paper piecing facilitates very accurate piecing compared to traditional methods. It’s easier to piece small and complicated patterns with this technique.

What I learned:

  • Start small! I made a small quilt (17×34”) but starting with a block would have been better.

  • It’s worth buying the special paper piecing paper. I used printer paper, and I had to resort to tweezers to get all the paper out of the seams.

  • This technique takes practice. I had several do-overs. Let go of perfection on your first project. It’s probably best to let it go in general. Perfectionism blocks progress – I probably need that as a tattoo.

  • Cutting the pieces a little bigger than the shape on the paper will pay off even if a bit of extra trimming is involved.

  • Set your machine’s stitch length smaller!

Raspberry plants in a gray metal Vego raised bed with wood trellises

Raised bed gardening

We have several raised beds in my yard. Some were here when we moved in, others we have added. Raised beds are one of the easiest ways to garden, especially when you have less-than-ideal soil conditions. Elevated raised beds can make gardening more accessible and more comfortable. I have wood and metal raised beds and even used rocks in the past.

New this year is an elevated cedar bed for kale and bok choy. I was a bit too successful at the seed starting, so I think we have 18 plants. Bring on the greens!

We also have a new Vego raised bed. It’s a corrugated metal raised bed that you can assemble in different configurations. Ours is the 6-in-1 17” high kit configured as a 3.5 x 5-foot bed. They recommend a German system for filling the bed called hugelkultur. (Read more at Epic Gardening.) We started with cardboard and added small logs, followed by branches and yard waste. Then we filled the bed with compost topping it off with soil. It took several days to fill it and many wheelbarrows of compost and soil. We planted “volunteer” raspberries in the Vego, and the plants have easily doubled in size in the past month. We started with a few plants a few years ago, but they multiply every year, and now we have many.

Strawberry bed

Squirrels like to taste test strawberries, so we added these chicken wire cages from Gardener Supply to this wood raised bed from Home Depot. Special shout out to Robert for building custom ledges to keep the cages in place and deter the little critters.

Strawberry plants in a wood raised bed with chicken wire cages to protect them from rude squirrels.

 

Tomatoes!

These deep metal raised beds are great for a porch.

Tomato plants in metal raised beds

Kale and Bok Choy

I love the elevated wood raised bed. It’s very solidly built and great for greens.

Lacy kale and bok choy galore in a wood raised bed.

New in the garden: Dahlias

I bought dahlia tubers at one of the spring plant sales and planted them in giant pots. They remind me of growing potatoes in that you gradually cover them with soil as they grow.

Whenever I try something new, a part of me inevitably wonders, “Is this going to work?” I love being amazed when it does! Even with the California ground squirrels burrowing in every pot, the plants are thriving and growing at an amazing rate.

Read more about planting and growing dahlias: https://www.almanac.com/plant/dahlias.


Photo by Kevin Wong on Unsplash

Brave girls

This story broke me. I loved Girl Scouts. I loved the badges and the outings. Amerie Jo Marie was a girl Scout from Uvalde, Texas. She was killed at school in a country that doesn’t know which end is up. The Girl Scouts of America posthumously awarded her the Bronze Cross. I didn’t know about the Bronze Cross, and it crushes me to think of children in a position to earn awards like this one. But she was, and she did – for putting her own life in danger to save or try to save others.

To support Uvalde’s Girl Scout Troop, visit https://www.girlscouts-swtx.org/en/for-volunteers/forms/Donate_to_GSSWT.html and select Uvalde area Girl Scouts.


Photo by Eduardo Goody on Unsplash

Stellar's jays: magnificent blue birds with a killer mohawk. Love peanuts.

Gone to the birds

We are bird fans. We have a long-standing love affair with the blue friends (Steller’s jays), the chickadees and the spotted towhees. (Robert has a soft spot for these cute little ground feeders, making sure that they get some of the peanuts that we put out for the Stellar’s jays.)

But we’ve seen several new birds in the past week! We downloaded the Cornell Lab Merlin app to help with identifying our new feathered friends. It helps identify birds by their song or a photo. First: a goldfinch. I realize this is no rare bird alert–it’s the state bird of Washington after all, but it has proven elusive. We saw a woodpecker we haven’t seen before, maybe a red-breasted sapsucker? Plus a pair of black-headed grosbeaks, including a male and a female.

We are working on a new garden area near the large birdfeeder so we moved it up to the porch temporarily. The dinner crew is putting on quite a show this evening.


Photo by Jennifer Uppendahl on Unsplash

Two elevators, side by side.

Fiction: Elevator ride

This is fiction. Any similarities to actual events are coincidental. But if it does seem familiar, may I say: lucky you.

“Crap.”

Getting out of my car and running late, I juggled my purse, briefcase, extra bag (why is there always an extra bag?), and coffee and wound up wearing a precious sip of my brain rehydration fluid.

“I hope that I can benefit from that through osmosis,” I muttered.

I walked more gingerly to the elevator now, careful not to splash any more of my coffee and trying to figure out how to disguise the tell-tale stain once I got to the office. Distracted, I pressed the wrong button once I got in. Because I was late, the elevator was empty, so it moved quickly to the plaza level.

As the door slid open I stepped forward to press the correct button and I almost dropped my coffee.

He did, too; a synchronized juggle on both our parts saved the coffees and some embarrassment.

He breathed my name more than spoke it, and that activated something inside that doesn’t typically get activated when I am going to work. The seconds stretched out, warping time. It was standing still and taking me back.

It felt like a long time before I could speak and only trusted myself to say, “Hi, there.” It was more of a squeak than I wanted it to be. How long had it been? I tried to count the months–the years!–and my brain seemed to have shut down. I could only see his eyes.

Oh my God, those eyes. So blue, so kind, so deep. I used to get lost in them.

Why had we broken up again? I struggled to form coherent thoughts. My brain seemed scrambled as if I had just awakened from a deep, dreamy sleep, not knowing where I was.

Something about different priorities, blah, blah, blah. It seemed stupid now.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash. The light reflected off something shiny. Oh, yeah, my wedding ring. I was married now. I found someone with the same priorities, and we tied the knot two years ago.

Blah, blah, blah.

He seemed to notice the same thing, and I desperately looked anywhere but my left hand.

The elevator started to beep.

“What floor do you need?” he asked.

Suddenly, I was transported to a very different floor — with him. What floor do I need? Grasping my bags tightly, I dug my fingernails into my palm, willing myself to the here and now.

“19,” I forced out with some difficulty, wondering if I’d said it loud enough for him to hear.

He pressed 19 and then 12. Unflappable as always, he leaned into a corner of the elevator in a supermodel way that had always made me feel like he was too hot for me.

“You look good,” he said, looking at me in a penetrating way that made me wonder if I had buttoned my shirt that morning.

Suddenly, I was all too aware of the coffee stain on said shirt, looking at it the way one looks at a wreck on the freeway, not wanting to see it but unable to look away. I looked back at him, sure that I would die from embarrassment. I started to mount a protest but he cut me off.

“You look good,” he said again, with a kindness and intensity that made it clear that there would be no argument.

The elevator dinged, and as the door slid open, he leaned toward me. Looking into my eyes, he pointed to his heart and said, “You are here, always.”

And then he was gone; the door whooshed shut, and the elevator resumed its climb to the 19th floor.

Canyon strip quilt, May 2022

Canyon quilt

After last month’s misadventures in quilting, I wanted my next project to be a sure thing: a small strip quilt using canyon-themed fabric for the back. I selected most of the fabrics a while back and put them together in a bag for some future moment. It’s always fun to rediscover the fabrics I set aside and figure out how to put the pieces together. It’s always a fun and magical process.

I finished this off with a hand-sewn binding and one of my new labels!

This is a quilt for my favorite hiker.

What are you working on? Respond to this email and share your latest.

Happy creating!

Two forks. Photo by Ben Lodge on Unsplash

Impressive Tofu

We made this Crunchy Spring Iceberg Salad Recipe from Hetty McKinnon in the NYT Cooking. The asparagus and frozen peas were perfect when cooked this way, blanched in boiling water for about a minute. The recipe calls for feta, so we gave this vegan version a try. It’s marinated tofu, and one of the secrets to marinating tofu is to press the water out first. We have a made-in-Seattle beautiful bamboo tofu press made by New Union and available on Etsy.

But the big a-ha was slicing the tofu BEFORE putting it in the press. The results were much better than previous attempts! The result was delicious. I can’t say it was precisely like feta, but I’ll make it again. It’s not a complicated recipe, but it does take time: time to press the tofu and time for the marinade to work its magic.

We used almond milk yogurt for the dressing, and it worked great. So you can make this vegan or non-dairy with some easy substitutions.

We liked the marinated tofu so much that we moved on to this recipe by Samin Nosrat for NYT Cooking: Mara’s Tofu With Mixed Grains Recipe. We didn’t have coconut oil, so we went in a different direction, using crunchy garlic oil instead and letting it marinate longer. The most exciting part of this recipe is mixing quinoa and rice! We cooked it together in the rice cooker, and it’s more interesting than either grain by itself. I have to say I never thought of mixing the two. Try it!


Photo by Ben Lodge on Unsplash

Hey, compost happens 

You know I recently bought a truckload of compost. There’s still a big pile, but not quite as big. Well, we also made our own, about 12 cubic feet of the black gold.

We have a super huge raised bed that needed a ridiculous amount of organic matter to get it up and running so we deployed the homemade compost as part of the effort. It was amazing. It’s been cooking in the side yard for the last two years with very little work on our part. Basically, we open the lid and dump in the food scraps, leaves or grass clippings. That’s it.

There is a lot of composting advice out there and even Master Composters. (Yes, that’s a thing, I kinda want to be one.) Composting can be done with a small plastic bin, a trash can, or a composting bin, large or small. We have four bins of different kinds. Some day, we’ll go on a tour together. But I am a lazy composter. I throw it in and wait. No turning the pile. No activator. No careful accounting of the proportion of greens and browns. Just time, that’s it. And like magic, compost happens.

If you love the magic of compost, check out this recent New York Times article by Cara Buckley: The Unlikely Ascent of New York’s Compost Champion.

Composting is for everyone, everywhere, and it’s truly a magical substance.

Compost and then wood chips

After the huge compost pile is distributed throughout the yard, it will be time to add wood chips. No ChipDrop yet, so we bought some wood mulch on super sale from Home Depot which worked out cheaper per square foot than the delivery options available to us. We are saving the bags to try a local bag-your-own wood chips option from a local tree company.

Then we got lucky. 

Someone posted 18 bags of the same wood mulch on Freecycle. Freecycle is a community-based exchange that lets you offer, take and ask for things. It was our lucky day! And all this schlepping counts as a workout! If you are looking for me, I’ll be outside, spreading compost and mulch.